Technology goes viral: Local governments use tech to help communities weather COVID-19 pandemic, social distancing
Around March 13 is when Suffield, Ct., First Selectman Melissa Mack estimates that she “saw the writing on the wall” with the coronavirus’s spread. The town’s chief executive witnessed the virus spreading in nearby New York City and Fairfield County, Ct., and she surmised it would soon get to her community in the state’s north-central sector.
So, Mack drove to every municipal building and met with every Suffield department head. She told each of them that she anticipated a transition to working from home, and she wanted them to brainstorm creative solutions for how government staff could take projects home and continue to offer public services while working remotely. She also asked them to think of other creative solutions for getting work done — perhaps to explore projects they hadn’t gotten to in years.
Town staff ultimately made many changes. Youth services held webinars on topics such as, “kids teaching kids about COVID-19” and found virtual ways to check-in with students and parents that could have more struggles due to the pandemic. Multiple departments loosened requirements where appropriate to allow email submission of various items. The town building official is allowing some inspections to be done over video calling.
Even Suffield’s parks and recreation department has begun offering virtual physical fitness classes, virtual field trips to places like national parks and museums, virtual arts and crafts programs and virtual classes — all of which are offered for free, Mack says.
“As a municipal employer, I’m thrilled that we’re able to show our community that our parks and rec department, while you associate them with active things and programs, etc., are still able to contribute to the town while working remotely. Because I certainly want to be able to continue to pay all of our employees to the extent I can continue to do so. And so, by showing that they are really actively engaged in working to support our community, [it] is wonderful,” Mack says.
Suffield departments aren’t alone in seizing hold of the digital space during this pandemic. Faced with citizens rightfully sheltering in place and practicing social distancing to flatten the curve, local government departments across the country have turned to technology to help serve citizens better at home.
Consider the Volusia County, Fla., Public Library, for instance. The library has 14 branches and lots of children’s programming — 600 children’s events have been planned for this summer, says Karen Poulsen, library project manager with the Volusia County Public Library.
To read the complete article, visit American City & County.